What is History 101?
The History 101 seminar is designed to guide you through the capstone experience of your undergraduate education as a history major: the researching and writing of your senior thesis. Successful completion of this challenging but rewarding endeavor requires you to do the work of a historian. Ultimately, this translates to producing a piece of scholarship—in this case a 30-50 page final paper—in which you articulate and defend a historical interpretation/argument rooted in extensive primary source research, informed by thorough secondary source reading.
Preparation Guidelines for History 101
- Identify/describe a topic you would like to investigate for your 101 (thesis). Your topic should be narrowly focused, something that you can examine thoroughly, rather than superficially. As a general rule, it is always better to cast your research net deep instead of wide, to cover less in order to uncover more. Your initial topic description should be informed by a preliminary investigation into both primary and secondary sources (see #3 and #4 below) in order to demonstrate how they address and inform the topic you've chosen. This will help establish your topic's feasibility and viability for your thesis. In other words for #1 to mean anything, you'll need to be sure to do #3 and #4.
- Spell out a question (or two or three) about your chosen topic that you would like to answer in your your thesis. Your question(s) must be evaluative, i.e., of the "how" / "why" variety, and not normative, i.e., of the "should" or "ought" variety. Evaluative questions require you to take and defend a position, to advance a thesis claim (i.e., interpretation / argument), in response to them.
- Conduct the research necessary to (a) identify a primary source base or primary source bases and then (b) begin conducting preliminary research into those primary sources. Ultimately, your final paper will depend on having a rich array of primary sources available to address the research question(s) you pose (#2) for your topic (#1). Many good research questions simply cannot be answered because they lack primary sources. Consequently, it's essential that you choose a research topic and question(s) that has a wealth of available and accessible primary sources. Ultimately, the strength of your thesis will be a function of the persuasiveness/forcefulness of the thesis claim you advance in your final 101 in light of the narrowly-focused thoroughness of the predominantly primary evidence you marshal to support your thesis claim.
- Familiarize yourself with some of the historiography (secondary) sources about your chosen topic, including the interpretations they advance and primary sources they employ.